It’s no secret that Minecraft is a game of infinite possibilities. It is this open-endedness that allowed the game to achieve the ultimate gamer status of being, quite literally, the best-selling video game in history. In Minecraft, your imagination is the only limitation. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that some players have invented custom gameplay challenges ranging from the more straightforward, like one chunk survival, to the more complex, such as functional computers or architectural projects the size of planets.
This new phenomenon of building planets or, in some cases, entire solar systems inside a single Minecraft save came from a desire to up the ante, be that in self-imposed challenges, subverting “normal” gameplay, or other antics.
Minecraft already has a variety of game modes and difficulties that players can choose between depending on their desired play style at any given moment, whether that’s a more passive and exploratory game with the “peaceful” difficulty, right up to waging various scales of war on evil mobs with higher difficulty settings. Alternatively, players who aren’t interested in that aspect can also choose to play Minecraft to its true sandbox potential by playing in creative mode, where they have access to unlimited resources and are invincible.
Through this, Minecraft can be a relatively relaxing exploration game seeking out discoveries in its infinitely expansive worlds, an educational tool used by schools, or an arduous survival game. Players wanting the most extreme survival mode Minecraft has to offer have two main difficulty choices: hard and hardcore.
Hard includes a variety of changes from the game’s default difficulty, including hostile mobs that deal more damage and are more aggressive, zombies that can break down wooden doors, and spiders that spawn with near-infinite buffs, giving playing a renewed sense of challenge.
Hardcore mode, on the other hand, kicks it up a notch further. It makes the world (almost) permanently set to hard mode with extra goodies thrown in for good measure. These include the inability to enable cheats and bonus chests when creating the world and, when playing, gives the player only one life. Die and it’s all over for that save.
At Minecraft’s earliest public release in May 2009, a period later known as “Java Edition Classic,” its only game mode was creative. Only ten block types existed, and the world generation looked nothing like what it does today. Instead of an infinitely sprawling world with oceans and landmasses, players were confined to a single location surrounded by an infinite ocean. It wouldn’t be until August of that year that the game’s creator, Marcus “Notch” Persson, would start testing an early Survival mode implementation.
Survival, which introduced the health bar, originally had a setup not too dissimilar from modern-day hardcore mode in terms of losing the game save upon death unless it was backed up elsewhere.
Players in games have a tendency to get bored, regardless of how open or infinite a game’s environment can be. So it feels somewhat natural that players have started creating scale versions of planets in Minecraft. What does, however, surprise me the most is many of these players have done so in hardcore mode, where players only have one life and lose the world if they die. As if the “one life” problem wasn’t dire enough.
“If you make a mistake while building the planet, like falling off of the planet into the void for a near instant death, you can’t play on that world anymore,” YouTuber Sandiction noted. “It raises the stakes for everything you do in the game, and makes it much more interesting, knowing that at any moment you can lose everything.”
Sandiction, whose ambitious videos of Hardcore Minecraft regularly attract viewerships in the millions, believes he was the first to create planets in Minecraft hardcore.
“I’ve seen a bunch of those ‘surviving 100 days on a planet in Minecraft’ type of videos,” he tells Kotaku. “But I couldn’t find a video of someone actually building the planet, which really surprised me. So, I figured I’d make one myself.”
Sandiction spent more than 40 real-world hours constructing a single planet. Doing this not only required gathering enough materials to build a literal planet but also finding enough food to survive, avoid the hoards of hostile mobs out to kill him, and somehow not die, not even once.
However, all that didn’t phase him much. Sandiction found the tedium and rapid realisation of the sheer enormity of the task to be of far greater concern.
“It took way longer to build than I had anticipated,” he tells Kotaku.
The scale of the project became “so big that I struggled to even choose which biomes to build it out of.” To solve this problem, Sandiction got creative. Instead of sticking to biomes currently in the game, he opted to imagine his own in an effort to stave off boredom.
However, Sandiction isn’t alone in his quest to build planets. Another YouTuber who goes by the handle “LockDownLife” has also taken part. In a video uploaded to their channel in October, LockDownLife constructed a planet consisting of more than 2,000 blocks on hardcore as well. Like Sandiction, LockDownLife also had to ensure they had sufficient food, avoided the complication that is death, and found the materials necessary to construct the world.
Whereas Sandiction created his in the normal Minecraft dimension, LockDownLife opted to create it in the End, Minecraft’s final objective and boss battle.
“I thought building it in the End would be cool,” he told viewers, “because it will be easier to see…and it will just look a lot cooler.”
LockDownLife acknowledged Kotaku’s request for comment but did not respond in time for publication.
But not all creators taking part in this challenge are satisfied to stop at one planet. aCookieGod, whose audience is nearing two million, has aspired to create an entire solar system’s worth of planets in hardcore mode. He hasn’t stopped there, either. In his spare time, he also created a volcano consisting of more than 80,000 blocks. The feat left him physically injured, tweeting a picture of himself with his hand bandaged, stating that it was the “aftermath of building an 80,000 block volcano in twodays” and that “carpal tunnel has entered my life.”
Others have tried to go a different route: to survive on these player-created worlds. PaulGG, another Minecraft YouTuber, uploaded a video this past summer trying to do just that for 100 days. “Surviving on this planet is going to be no easy task,” he told viewers, noting also that he is limited to the resources available on the planet.
Paul played in a save that was devoid of anything but a few small planets spaced some distance apart. Like Sandiction, he noted that the video was an “insane amount of work.”
As a testament to the difficulty that this challenge can entail, Paul was down to a single heart on his health bar inside the first day of his challenge after he was attacked by zombies and creepers. Being this low on health, he noted, made him one hit or misstep from death — and the end of his attempt. Like it was for participants in the One Chunk Challenge, food was a significant problem for Paul in his playthrough. However, by day four, Paul managed to collect enough supplies to fully recoup his health. By days 28 through 31, he was able to bridge the gap to a nearby planet, one made of lava slime, lava, and diamonds. There, he was able to find a nether portal in a cave. A few days later, Paul made it to a planet made almost entirely of sand. Nearly halfway through, he made it into the nether. However, on his return on day 47, the game glitched and spawned his portal in the void below all of the planets. This necessitated going back to the nether and mining enough blocks to build a bridge back up to the planets.
By days 59 through 68, he found the End portal and beat the ender dragon between days 90 and 99. Unfortunately, as Paul tells viewers, something happened to the recording and he lost the footage immediately following the ender dragon’s demise. All this was accomplished without a single death. Mission accomplished. Well done, PaulGG.
YouTuber Skeppy took part in a similar adventure. He had 100 players go on a field trip of sorts around the solar system in a universe not too mechanically different from PaulGG’s. While Skeppy built the bridges for them in creative mode, where Skeppy can fly and has infinite resources, his tourists did not have that option and were routinely put through parkour challenges with the risk of sudden death.
Videos and challenges like this are rather fun. They give those who crave a difficult challenge, one where near-infinite customisation is available, the ability to spice up their playstyle. Like the One Chunk Challenge, this is another welcome respite from the more controversial ones that exist in games and is a testament to the ingenuity of Minecraft’s players.
Sandiction has since moved on to create other videos in hardcore, more recently working on transforming the End and bringing the End to the overworld, the first realm players are introduced to when they spawn and the main one the game traditionally takes place in. He tells Kotaku that he doubts he’ll ever build another planet.
“It was just such a massive project that it would be hard to find the motivation to do it again, but it was a really fun project.”
He says he’s seen others mentioning him on Twitter “with progress updates for their own planet they’re building inspired by mine, that has been really cool!”
Kyle Wilson is a freelance games journalist. You can find his Twitter here.